Book Review: Renovate by Leonce Crump

Renovate- Leonce Crump

How does the power and presence of the gospel enter into a city and bring real, transformational change?  This is the premise behind Pastor Leonce B. Crump, Jr.’s book Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You AreRenovate weaves together Crump’s own personal journey as a church planter in inner city Atlanta alongside the things that God has shown him while seeking to live missionally in his neighborhood in a book that challenges each of his readers to truly embrace the gospel by investing in others.

Crump effectively encourages his readers of the incarnational ministry of Jesus- He came to live among us in order to invest in our lives.  It is by embracing Jesus’ model of ministry that we can truly effect change and gospel impact to those around us.  Crump reminds us that as Christians we are sent into the places where God has put us and may be sending us in the future.  In these places where we find ourselves, we must live like missionaries by seeking to understand the culture and its needs prior to proposing our own solutions to the culture’s problems.  In seeking to minister in a place, Crump reminds us that it takes time to see impact and that investment needs to be for the long haul in a community.  As we seek to live as sent ones being intentional to live for the glory of God and the good of the city, we will see God begin to work.

Renovate also addresses some of the racial tensions that we see in our world in a very helpful way.  Through Crump’s own personal story and learnings as an inner city church planter, he articulates some helpful things that members of the predominate culture should consider.  It is through seeking to see the world through someone else’s eyes that true understanding and change can come.

Crump’s call to Renovate is a clear and gospel-focused call to minister to people like Jesus would.  It is a helpful and challenging read for ministers seeking to reach their cities as well as Christians seeking to live on mission in the place that God has planted them.

Book Review: Finding God in the Hard Times by Matt and Beth Redman

Finding God in the Hard TimesHow do you worship God in challenging times?  It is easy to praise God when things are going well, yet it can be difficult to respond in faith and worship when times are hard.  In Finding God in the Hard Times: Choosing to Trust and Hope When You Can’t See the Way, worship leaders and fellow sufferers, Matt and Beth Redman lead readers through the narrative of their song “Blessed Be Your Name” on a journey to discover how to respond in faith when you want to run from God.

The Redmans write about the importance of remembrance in difficult times.  When God seems distant and the circumstances seem overwhelming, we remember who God is and how He has worked in our lives in the past.  Since God never changes, the past faithfulness of God in our lives serves as a reminder of His continuing faithfulness to us in the challenging circumstances that we are facing.

Throughout difficult times, the Redmans also call their readers to rest in God’s plan and control.  God has a plan that He is working in the lives of His people for His glory and their good.  It is by clinging to the bigger story that God is writing with our lives that we have hope in hard times.

Since our lives are fortunately not constant paths of suffering, the Redmans write about the importance of praise in the good times.  When times are going well, we must live from a posture of constant thankfulness.  In this posture, we acknowledge that all good things are gifts from God that we should return to Him through our praise and our service.

Finding God in the Hard Times is a short and hope-filled book that will encourage any believer walking through times of suffering.  Through personal narrative and letters from others, the Redmans give us encouragement that God is in control and that hope still exists.  The small group questions included at the end of each chapter also make this a good resource for a small group to walk through together.

Book Review: From Tablet to Table by Leonard Sweet

From Tablet to Table

Community and fellowship has always been a distinctive that has marked Christianity.  The table stood at the center of the spiritual story of the people of Israel and also stands at the center of the story of the church.  In a culture filled with the distractions of a digital world, how do we bring the focus on relationships and community back to the center of our homes, churches, and world?  In From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed, Leonard Sweet seeks to answer this important question.

The first section of the book “Table It” focuses on Sweet’s own personal experiences with the table, the role of the table in the history of the church, and Jesus’ ministry of the table.  One of the key themes in this segment of the book is the passing on of faith through stories that happens around the table.  Sweet argues that we all desire on the deepest level a “narraphor,” which he defines as “a story made with metaphors that help us understand the world, ourselves, and God better” (p. 3).  Narraphors are the stories we hear around the table that shape our faith, life stories, and identities.  These stories are only found in community and relationship that is created and sustained around the table.

The second section of the book is titled “Life’s Three Tables.”  The three chapters in this section focus on how the teaching and importance of the table impacts the realms of the home, the church, and the world.  Sweet calls for a expression of the faith that invites outsiders into the community of faith and to reach out to others as an expression of our faith.  The diversity of the body of Christ is meant to be pictured around the tables in these three spheres of life.  The table is designed to be a place of ministry to those inside the community of faith and a tool for outreach to those outside the community of faith.

The table is an important place of ministry, mission, faith development, and identity formation.  For many in our culture and world, the table is a place that has been often abandoned.  From Tablet to Table is a helpful and timely call to not forsake the community and connectedness that we were meant to center our lives around.

Book Review: Jesus Continued by J. D. Greear

Jesus Continued

In many Christian circles, the person and work of the Holy Spirit is a neglected and commonly misunderstood truth.  In Jesus Continued…Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better than Jesus Beside You, J. D. Greear presents a challenging, practical, and helpful work to encourage Christians to truly engage with the Holy Spirit.

Greear’s book focuses around the idea that many Christians falsely believe that we would find it easy to follow Jesus if we were like one of His disciples and had Jesus beside us as we walked with Him on our journey of faith.  Using scripture as His foundation, Greear argues that the Holy Spirit inside us is better than Jesus standing beside us.  This truth is shown throughout the Bible from Jesus promising that His followers would do “greater things” because the Holy Spirit would fill them than Jesus Himself had done in His ministry to Jesus’ command for the disciples to wait to fulfill the Great Commission until the Holy Spirit had come upon them.  The Holy Spirit was the One who gave the spiritual power to God’s people to do His work for His glory.

Jesus Continued is broken down into three helpful sections.  The first focuses on the important theological and biblical foundations of the Holy Spirit.  We must know the truths of the scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit before we can engage Him personally.  The second section focuses on areas where we can experience the Holy Spirit.  These areas include: the gospel, the Word of God, our giftings, the church, our spirit, and our circumstances.  These are helpful chapters that give readers practical thoughts on how the Holy Spirit engages us throughout our everyday life.  The final section focuses on how we seek the Holy Spirit.  The final section includes helpful chapters on seeking God, what to do when the Holy Spirit seems silent, and how to experience revival personally and in the church.

Like Greear’s other books, Jesus Continued is a helpful, practical, and gospel-saturated approach to an important biblical topic.  This is another great resource on the Holy Spirit which encourages believers to draw closer to the Holy Spirit through prayer, personal reliance, and seeking His work in us.

Book Review: The Real Win: Pursuing God’s Plan for Authentic Success by Colt McCoy and Matt Carter

The Real Win

The Real Win: A Man’s Quest for Authentic Success is a great book on biblical manhood from pastor Matt Carter and NFL quarterback Colt McCoy.  This book came out of Matt and Colt’s journey together as friends seeking God and what it means to be a man who truly follows after Jesus and seeking true success that comes through living for Him. Many men tend to define success in light of their careers.  Matt and Colt have both achieved what many people would consider success in ministry and sports, yet they know that the definitions of worldly success are not sufficient to describe true success.

Matt and Colt argue that the ability of men to experience the real win depends strongly on who we trust and who we serve.  The call throughout the book is to trust Jesus and serve Him by serving others.  In this way of winning, men focus on being faithful to follow Jesus and leave the results of their faithfulness up to Him.  Throughout the book, men are called to lead their homes, love their wives, minister to their families, work for what matters, and leave a legacy of faithfulness.  These are high callings that can only be completed by relying on God and His work in men’s lives.

The Real Win is a challenging and encouraging book that calls men to become who God has called them to become.  Matt and Colt have approached this theme in a practical and personal way that would make this a great book for a group of men to read together as they seek to have true success.  The friendship that formed this great book makes it a great tool for men to chase after Jesus together in community.

Ten Most Influential Books

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I was asked recently for a youth pastor group that I am in to list the 10 most influential books that I have read, excluding the Bible.  Here is my list:

  1. Cost of Discipleship- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  2. Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome- Kent and Barbara Hughes
  3. Screwtape Letters- C. S. Lewis
  4. Knowing God- J. I. Packer
  5. Don’t Waste Your Life- John Piper
  6. Reason for God- Tim Keller
  7. Ragamuffin Gospel- Brennan Manning
  8. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire- Jim Cymbala
  9. Visioneering- Andy Stanley
  10. Blink- Malcom Gladwell

Honorable mentions whose writings have also shaped me, that I could not land on a specific book for, are:

  • Frederich Buechner
  • John Calvin
  • Martin Luther
  • Andy Root

What books/authors would be on your list?

Book Review: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life by Eric Mason

Beat God to the Punch

In Philippians 2:10-11Open Link in New Window, Paul states that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (ESV).  Beat God to the Punch is Eric Mason’s call to surrender your life fully to Jesus knowing that one day every person will bow and confess the Lordship of Christ.  Mason clearly calls both believers and unbelievers to surrender to the transformational power of the gospel in this helpful and challenging book.

Beat God to the Punch is all about falling in love with Jesus, being captured by His great grace, and living a life that is radically different because of this grace encounter.  Mason states that “when we authentically experience the Lord Jesus, we are contagious.  We are then willing to spread this experience of grace” (p. 37).  Grace is not simply the ticket into the Christian life, but it is the truth that defines the entire experience of the Christian life.  Mason makes this truth come alive in a clear and practical way.

The most encouraging part of the book was when Mason listed all of the names of Jesus found throughout the Bible.  He chose to lead his readers back to these names because

“When I look at the names of Jesus, I see a buffet of grace.  All the food groups of the soul are in His name, so that our souls will never find themselves malnourished.  This grace buffet is for us to see that nothing we have could have been obtained on our own.” (p. 47)

Resting in the promises of who Jesus is, what He has done, and who He has called us to be, Mason challenges us to Beat God to the Punch by surrendering first and foremost to His Lordship and then allowing Jesus to make us into trophies of His great grace as we live lives of discipleship following Him.